LANE ONE: IOC members will choose the 2026 host on Monday, but are already looking to 2030 and beyond

The International Olympic Committee membership will meet on Monday in Lausanne (SUI) to select the host city/region for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, but the chatter is actually about the future of the Games beyond 2028.

After Monday’s vote, the Session will take up a series of issues, including the newest reform plan for selecting the sites for the Games, developed in just a few months by a committee chaired by Australian IOC member John Coates, and approved by the Executive Board in May. It includes some radical departures from the way the IOC has managed the selection process for several decades:

● The IOC will talk to anyone at any time about hosting a future edition of the Games, no matter how far in the future.

● The Games can be awarded not only to a city, but also to a region or a conglomeration of countries.

● The IOC has voted for a Games host seven years in advance since its 1981 selection of Seoul (KOR) for the 1988 Games. Under the reforms, the IOC could make a selection any time it sees fit, in order to be “flexible and adjusted to the context and needs.”

● IOC Commissions will be assembled for the Olympic Games and Winter Games to advise potential hosts and report on its discussions to the Executive Board.

IOC chief Thomas Bach (GER) noted that the proposals are designed “in order to avoid producing too many losers, as we had for past Candidature Processes.”

But Coates, in speaking to reporters last week in Lausanne, went further along this line, and in coordination with Bach, attacked the IOC’s nemesis – public referendums – about Olympic bids. After seeing at least the last nine public votes on Olympic bids go down to defeat – Calgary (CAN) being the most recent – Coates suggested that the new structure will essentially require public votes on bidding for the Games:

“The commission will say, if you want to come to us and you’re from a country or region that is going to require a referendum, then you get that out of the way first before you make your proposal.

“It is not unreasonable to say that before we consider you, you have to satisfy us that you have the public and Government support and, consistent with that, if you are from a country that requires a referendum, come to us after you’ve had it.

“We don’t like to see candidates being considered and then withdrawing.”

Bach echoed the idea, and in a novel way:

“You could also count in some cases at least the IOC among the losers.

“If you have this ongoing discussion on do we continue a candidature, what are the implications, do we withdraw and the referenda situation, for example … this is not a very comfortable position for the IOC.

“These losers that lost just one election, for us it is even more difficult because according to the political landscape we are living in this moment, you lose this candidate for the next election and then the next one after that. It has an exponential effect.

“You have to look to the future and there minimizing the number of potential candidatures cannot be the purpose.”

Of course, requiring referenda is not a new idea. The Sports Examiner suggested it back in April of 2018! But the strategy behind this approach is extremely clever in that it maywell eliminate any talk of Olympic bids in cities or regions before they get serious because of the referendum “requirement” from the IOC commission.

That’s a good thing? Yes, for now, because the IOC feels the reputation of the Games is injured when a city of region turns down the chance to bid. And it is slowly moving toward a model of essentially seeking out a host for a specific Games and then having the Session ratify it. That’s what happened with the 2022 Youth Olympic Games, when the IOC leadership decided this was the best way to place an Olympic event in Africa, and offered Dakar (SEN) for confirmation (rather than an election among multiple candidates).

As the IOC has worked diligently – and to its credit – to reduce the cost of bidding and of the Games itself, the big loser in all of these changes is the news media, who will find significantly less chaos to report on in the future. But the size of the Olympic Games is still a problem and until the IOC focuses on trimming the size of the event itself – athletes, sports and events – it will continue to have difficulty from potential hosts over the cost of the Games of the Olympiad.

IOC President Bach has his detractors, but he must be given credit for trying to get ahead of the bidding issue while he has the time, with the Olympic Games set through 2028 and the Winter Games to be set through 2026 on Monday.

Monday’s selection between Milan-Cortina in Italy and Stockholm-Are in Sweden will be announced approximately 6 p.m. Lausanne time, or about noon Eastern time. The announcement and the succeeding news conference will be streamed on the IOC’s Olympic Channel online service.

The news media reporting in Lausanne are filing the usual whiplash stories: the IOC asks for more financial guarantee details from Stockholm-Are, so they’re in trouble. The Swedish Prime Minister announces he’s coming for the presentation, so they’re doing well.

The IOC’s own Evaluation Commission reports on the two bids reported multiple concerns about the Swedish bid, including an almost complete lack of enthusiasm from most levels of government, but was pretty excited about the Milan-Cortina bid. Both have budgets of about $1.5 billion, but the evaluation team really didn’t believe the Stockholm-Are numbers.

The Stockholm folks are trumpeting a new poll disclosed on Saturday that showed 63% of Swedes in favor of the bid. Another poll released last Thursday showed only 34% of Swedes support the bid, with 37% against and 29% undecided. Both can’t be right. The IOC’s own polling in Italy showed 83% support.

Milan-Cortina is the better bid, but whether it gets elected is anyone’s guess as the idea of a Winter Games in Scandanavia is the stuff that IOC-member dreams are made of.

Hopefully, the membership will choose carefully and wisely. It may be the last time they actually get to make a choice.

Rich Perelman

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